Author’s Eavesdropping Leads to Imperfect Characters Modeling Grace

On an evening kissed with rain and just a hint of light in the night sky, a group gathered in a large beautifully decorated auditorium at the historic Boling-Haxell House in Richmond. The group sat raptly listening to the vibrant voice of a Southern author.

The author was Joshilyn Jackson, who was in town – thanks to Fountain Bookstore – to talk about her newest book, A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty.

Joshilyn Jackson

Joshilyn Jackson discusses where she finds her ideas. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

She tells the audience, “Y’all are a dying breed. You take a night and sit around and discuss literature.”

Audience members had lots of questions for the author, too.

When asked where she gets her ideas, Joshilyn first offers a facile answer. “Take a mentally ill person and a ream of paper and have them love each other very much,” she tells the audience, which erupts in laughter.

Then she turns serious – for a moment – and explains that her characters come from both the landscape and from eavesdropping.

“I find Southern landscapes evocative,” she says. She grew up on the Florida Gulf Coast, which she describes as “white, sugary and pristine.” She later moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which she describes as a deep, rich green. “It is a verdant landscape,” she says repeatedly, noting that she has been chastised for using the word “verdant” too often. She even catches herself during her talk and stops using the word.

Joshilyn admits to being a “terrible inveterate eavesdropper.” She warns her audience, ““If I’m ever sitting next to you reading, you better watch your mouth.”

An airport is a favorite place for eavesdropping. “Everyone is going somewhere, and you only get two or three sentences” of the conversation, she says. Then she simply imagines.

One such overhead conversation at an airport became the basis for the character Mosy Slocumb in her newest book, which she originally intended to be her funny book.

However her friend Lydia Netzer – author of Shine, Shine, Shine – told Joshilyn that she needed to rework the book and find a way to let Liza speak. At first, Joshilyn says with a chuckle, “I simply hated Lydia.”

She took the advice, though, and reworked the book. “It took off when I let Liza go and let her infest the book,” Joshilyn admits.

The premise of most of her books is straightforward. “How can imperfect people model the best version of grace that they can?” Joshilyn explains.

Most of her books, she says, take her between 18 months and two years to write. “I’m really blessed that I don’t sleep,” she says. “Really, I don’t.” She often is up at 4 a.m. and will write until it’s time to send her children to school. Then she heads to a coffee shop to write until her children return. Joshilyn, while supportive of her children’s activities, says she’s not above “stealing an hour” at soccer practice, track meets or ballet rehearsals to write.

She also speaks highly of her editor. Joshilyn describes an editor as “a person who shows you where your map has failed.”

So far, Joshilyn’s map has not failed.

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Writing about Virginia’s Horses Takes Patience

NFPW and VPW member Julie Campbell always has been a horse lover. So it was natural for her to write a book about the horse in Virginia.

She just didn’t realize how long it would take. She worked on the book full time while researching and writing on evenings, weekends and days off. “When you boil it down to time I spent just on the book, I’d guess it took about two years,” she said a few weeks before her book tour kicked off.

But then there was another year when it went through two rounds of anonymous reviews and subsequent revisions. She also had to find the illustrations and obtain their accompanying permissions. Tack on another year or so for production: copyediting, design, proofreading, indexing and printing.

The Horse in Virginia: An Illustrated History explores the history of horses in Virginia during four centuries, including how the horse fit into society at any given time.  The University of Virginia Press developed the concept and hired Julie to write it and find the illustrations. There are many books about different facets of Virginia horses – fox hunting, steeple chasing, thoroughbreds and racing – but there wasn’t one general history. Now there is.

Even an avid horse lover like Julie was surprised by some of her findings. “I learned that through the mid-19th century, many if not most horses in Virginia had a gait called ‘amble’ in addition to the usual walk, trot, canter, gallop,” Julie said. “It was smooth and easy to ride and very popular.”

“I also learned that Virginians are very interested in the remains of famous horses, like Traveller and Little Sorrel,” she said. “You can actually see some horse bones at Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters museum in Winchester; they belonged to the horse of a Confederate cavalryman, Turner Ashby. Both the man and horse were killed in battle during the Civil War.”

Want to know more? Ask your independent bookseller to order it for you from the University of Virginia Press. Julie will sign her book March 20 at Fountain Bookstore in Richmond and May 11 at the Library of Virginia in Richmond.